Welcome to where I am, where my kitchen's always messy, a pot's (or a poet) always about to boil over, a dog is always begging to be fed. Drafts of poems on the counter. Windows filled with leaves. Wind. Clouds moving over the mountains. If you like poetry, books, and music--especially dog howls when a siren unwinds down the hill-- you'll like it here.




Wednesday, December 31, 2008


We should have a beautiful sunset this New Year's Eve. The sky has been completely clear, with fierce wind sending our dogs terrified onto the porch, eager to come in. Me, too, hurrying in with table cloths and other laundry from the line, having left them overnight, forgetful as always. The trees on the ridge looked about to come tumbling down. A lawn chair fled across the lawn. Branches creaked and thrashed.

Safely inside, I looked up Frank O'Hara's poems and wanted to share a couple of stanzas from "Animals." I don't plan to watch the big Times Square celebration tonight. And I don't really like champagne. What to do? Read poetry. Maybe Frank O'Hara.

"Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it's no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners..."


Time is the sunset fire we burn inside. That burns inside us. Around every sharp corner there it is.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I walked around the defunct garden today, already looking forward to the first warm days of clearing and planting. One more day till 2009. Is there sunflower wine? I'd rather toast with that elixir than champagne.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sándor Kányádi: Brief Encounter with Cartagena (two days before the New Year)

(Sándor Kányádi)

The last few days have settled atop me like a dreary blanket. If only the sun would shine. If only I could be walking along a beach with bright blue stretching beyond me. Somewhere in the gloom rise up a few lines from the Hungarian poet Sándor Kányádi, whose work I've promised myself to read in the new year. Not that our Blue Ridge Mountains have been icy, as Sandor describes the Carpathians. But lately they have seemed gray and overbearing. Or is this an internal landscape I'm describing? Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the two.

And then my husband turns on CNN and like Sandor Kányádi I want a gulp of light and color and hope, more than one gulp, actually. The reference to the Spanish Poet Federico Garcia Lorca, his voice a broken string, murdered in an olive grove by fascists, makes me want to call out, despite everything, with this Hungarian poet about whom I know nothing, to a place within a country suffering its own internal horrors---Cartagena, Cartagena!

"one gulp of your light and color
will be plentiful enough
in the icy Carpathians
to gild my remaining years with love"

Brief Encounter with Cartagena

Composed by a Hungarian traveling singer
        on a broken string of Federico Garcia Lorca

Plowing water with one wing
the airplane started flying low
till among lagoons it came
upon a landing strip aglow;
the sky was brightly bubbling blue,
the ground became a green concave
when the plane bumped down to land
letting its engines roar and rave,
the tiny little huts on stilts
tucked their scanty shadows in,
rattling like flea-market toys,
wind-up frogs, made out of tin,
earth in sky and blue in green,
each lived in the other’s face
with a drunken-love embrace,
and the sign said: Cartagena.
A noon like that I’d never seen,
fired by a flaming sun,
in it bushes, bays, and huts
mingled in erotic fun;
the plane stopped there a half an hour,
the time it takes to birth a child
or inter an unknown dead
found abandoned in the wild,
but in that time you seduced me
and since then kept me in your thrall,
I dream of life in one of your huts,
forgotten by and forgetting all;
atop the staircase rolled up to
the stranded plane I plainly saw
that your earth and sky, green and blue,
were mine to drink, oh, Cartagena.
Taking off I felt quite sure
the vibration of each hut
had a loving couple in it,
belly to belly, butt to butt.
Oh, why did we have to part,
why didn’t you tighten your embrace?
Now every season is a winter
and snow surrounds me every place.
I’d give my soul, my salvation,
for just one of your sultry nights,
I’d gladly exchange eternity
for one moment of your delights!
This love has made a fool of me,
a loving fool who sobbingly writes
about his fear he’ll never see
his love again, oh, Cartagena.
But one gulp of your light and color
will be plentiful enough
in the icy Carpathians
to gild my remaining years with love;
what we have is but a pale
imitation of your sun,
it rises and sets reminding me
of the brightness now long gone.
Oh, your blue and green, you Siren
of the Caribbean Sea,
your blinding light has forever
etched your magic name in me;
to gringos you’re a travel poster
but to me a love come true,
I often catch me calling you,
Cartagena, Cartagena.

Translated by Paul Sohar

Friday, December 26, 2008

St. Stephen's Feast Day

The day after Christmas is often depressing, or so it was when I was a child. Today has been cloudy and rainy; not even a fire in the stove made the mood any lighter. Maybe if we'd been observing the Feast Day of St. Stephen, from the Frogotten English Calendar that my husband reads each day, we'd have had more fun, going to the rectory and eating as much bread, cheese, and drinking as much ale as we chose, at the expense of the rector (yes!). Alas, this practice was discontinued at least a hundred years ago, so we must make our own St. Stephen's day celebration as the year winds down and 2009 comes closer.
And closer.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Sheaf of Christmas poems

Going through old computer files yesterday, I found these Christmas poems, originally part of the manuscript that became BLACK SHAWL. I saw Mary in these pieces as being here in the NC mountains rather than being a young girl in Nazareth over 2000 years ago. The reader at LSU Press suggested they be dropped, that they functioned better as a small chapbook of poems to be published later. They've waited ever since. As well as I can remember, they were first printed years ago in a journal whose poetry editor was my friend Janice Townley Moore. The Georgia Journal, I believe was its name. Anyway, here they are again, two days before another Christmas. The photos come from sunsets in S. Georgia and holly bushes, as well as waxing and full moons, here in the mountains.


is her color
because it was always the last
thing she saw through

her window before losing
count of the heddle’s
beat. Blue hem

beyond reach, she
dreamed herself
wearing it, skirt flaring

out of the narrow glass
where she saw turning
and turning her own image

till in a swoon
she might gather up into the blue
lap of heaven

the stars and the moon
as if they were no more than
the first fruits of May,

the wild strawberries
she loved to eat as she carried
them home to her table.


This wind!
She cannot hold her bonnet
against it and lets go
the sashes. A kite of blue
calico sails away over
the fields while a child laughs
and points at the spectacle,
blustery March making light
of her modesty till not a hairpin’s
left clinging, her heavy braids
tumbling like bell-ropes
around her. So here she stands,
skirt swelling forth in its manifold
emptiness, as if she’s come
to the edge of a sea
and hears far out a voice
calling, gull maybe,
though she lives nowhere near
water and she knows her name
is not BEATA.


what have we made of you,
when you were happy enough to be nursing
your baby, ignoring the tumult of heaven,
the scuffle of shepherd’s feet.
Wise men on camels meant little to you,
their frankincense, myrrh.
You could take it or leave it.

What good what it do you
whose only concern was the milk you felt
slowly beginning to thicken your breasts?
Or the worry that Joseph had not eaten,
you should have brought along more
of your grandmother’s journey-cake,
more of her dried figs and almonds.

No seafarer's daughter, you grew up
to quail at the stories of drowning men
merchants brought back from the sea ports,
for you were no braver than most women.
You liked to think of yourself as a drop
in the Lord’s deep and, save for a scribe’s
error, you might have stayed "stilla maris"
forever. You had no desire to be star

to whom mariners cried out
for centuries, struggling to grab
hold your sleeve as they’re sinking.


looking out at the straggle
of sheepherders leading their flock
to the hovel where you are still groggy
from childbirth. You wish they would go away,
seek out some other to worship,
for you are too tired to look blessed.
But it is expected of you.
Now and for two thousand years you must
lift up your eyes from your infant
and hear us out, bearing
such words as could almost make you
believe you are beautiful.


And what of you, Joseph? Still lost in the barn
shadows, stroking your beard
while the curious goats crowd about her,
as if they have already guessed who she is,
not just any poor country girl born

to the tending of livestock. When she calls,
you do not go near.
Is the sight of such bringing forth
more than you fear you can bear?
Not to mention her blood
and the odor of animal everywhere.

All night you stand in the dark stall pretending
your name never crosses
her lips. How much longer before you will go
to her, man enough at last to look
upon God in His baffling dependency?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Solstice, by Isabel Zuber


Longest night

the sacred sweep

from light to dark,

dark to light.

We draw the rhythm

of our breath

rise, fall, ease, flow.

In the kitchen

a woman sings

hymns of another

time, an earlier

faith, and a winter

rose blooms on

the window sill.

----Isabel Zuber, from RED LILY, unpublished poetry manuscript

Saturday, December 20, 2008

LIGHT AND LANGUAGE, from "Language Matters" for December

This is my last "Language Matters" column.

Light and Language

When I was a studying Spanish in college, I traveled to Mexico for summer school at the university in Saltillo. Before my departure I dreamed one night about an animal leading me into a labyrinth. When we reached the center, I saw that the beckoning animal was a jaguar holding a heart in his paw. I later learned that the jaguar is sacred to the Mayans, and I took this dream as a good sign, because the darkness was filled with pulsing light from the jaguar’s presence.

On one of our trips into the Mexican countryside, my classmates and I encountered a woman who wanted us to take her picture. The day was overcast and she kept asking," Hay bastante luz?"

Is there enough light? That question resonates still in my imagination, the way light enters into so much of what we long for and speak about at this time of year.

I remembered the woman’s question when my four-month-old daughter sat in her baby seat before our large living-room windows, conducting the morning light with her hands and singing back to it. The rest of the day, it seemed to me there was never enough light, especially when her colic returned, and instead of singing, she cried.

One of our state’s most renowned poets, Betty Adcock, has written a poem entitled “Word-Game.” It begins with these lines: “A child watching a moonrise/ might play a game of saying,/ might hold the word moon in his mouth/and push it out over and over.” In lines that could serve as the motif for this season, the poem concludes:
In a net of sound like the body’s
own singing web, a child
will be rising
with light for a language.

In the Christian tradition, the Word is the light of the world. Likewise, each word brings its own particular revelation, regardless of the language in which it is spoken: Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Cherokee, Lakota Sioux. Some politicians clamor for a law decreeing English the official language of the United States, but nothing will be able to stop the words that rise up from the languages of the people.

So this Christmas I wish you in Hindi Krismas ki subhkamna, in Arabic miilaad majiidas, and in Cherokee Danistayohihv, along with the more familiar feliz Navidad and joyeux Noël, and Fröhliche Weihnachten. Each expression casts a slightly different light on the season it celebrates, much the way the lightcatcher hanging in my bedroom will soon begin to gather the winter light and spread its spectrum around my walls. The poet Elizabeth Bishop called these lights “rainbow-birds,” but my daughter and I called them “rainbow fish,” because her astrological sign is Pisces, and I thought of her then as my little fish: ma petite poisson. These rainbows remind me that what looks like a beam of light is really composed of many colors—that light is both particle and wave. What we call reality is really the many manifestations of light, and our words capture that reality in their multifaceted sounds and meanings.

Friday, December 12, 2008



Full moon says look I am
over the pinebreak, says give me
your empty glass, pour
all you want, drink, look
out through your windows of ice,
through the eyes of your needles
observe how I climb, lay aside
what you weave on your looms

and see clouds fall away
like cold silk from your shoulders,
be quiet, hear the owl coming back
to the hayloft, shake loose
your long braids and rise up
from your beds, open
windows and curtains, let light
pour like water upon your heads,

all of you women who wait, raise
the shades, throw the shutters
wide, lean from your window ledge
into the great night that beckons
you, smile back at me
and so quietly nobody can hear you
but you, whisper, "Here am I."

by Kathryn Stripling Byer, from BLACK SHAWL, LSU PRESS, '98

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

FOX FIRE, by Katherine Russell Barnes


Your words, smooth as warm oil,
fill my gaunt sides, ignite
kindling laid and waiting.

My wintering muse stirs
and I know a poem must be glowing
from my eyes.


I love "My wintering muse" stirring. I'm sitting here stirring a cup of Cinnamon Stick tea, watching the rain fall. Katherine Barnes' book TREADING WATER will be published some time in the new year. I'll be featuring it when it's out.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Maria and Laura, by Wilbur E. Jordan, Jr.

I just couldn't resist putting up Geno's poem today, one he read from the workshop my friend doris davenport and I led (well, sort of) at Albany State a few weeks back. Can't you just smell the kitchens where these two women wrought their magic? Oh my, what tea to serve with this poem. What about Jasmine Pearls green tea?

Maria and Laura

by Wilbur E. “Geno” Jordan, Jr.

I do love the two names Marian and Laura . . .
and most people with those names.
These two names make me
think of hot homemade vegetable
soup on a cold day and
catered Thanksgiving dinners
for 25. They bring lace
overlay and pearl strands
to mind. The two, Marian and
Laura, Wylie and Hart,
Stokes and Jones, Bishop Allen
and John Wesley, hymns and
jazz, salmon croquets with
grits and Special K with fruit.
The loved of my life . . . Marian and Laura,
my grandmothers.

Poem(s) for the Day, by Stephen Holt

My friend Steve Holt has sent me two poems for the season. You may find Steve elsewhere on this blog. His most recent book is A Tone Poem of Stones, from Finishing Line Press. What about Cinnamon Plum tea to go along with these poems?
Christmas Card from Bold Camp Mountain

When the cold wind tapers
to a white birch whisper . . .

Three wild rabbits come out
on a clean white sheet of snow

To print the morning
paper with their paws.

Gift Boxes

Our father knew a man up Rockhouse Fork,
laid off from railroad work
one year and more, who fought hard-
scrabble field and gullied slope, bent
on keeping wife
and hungry children at his table.

Indian summer ended. Our mother packed
in cardboard grocery boxes
all our outgrown clothing, all
our hand-me-downs; in the cold
ahead of dawn, Dad delivered.
Never say a word, he said. Not one.

And now, as this winter evening dons
its tattered graying coat of snow, strange
youth I see in faded gabardines
and corduroys; thinning
soles of well worn shoes on pond ice
come skating back to me. Once more

I feel dubious fleeting
glances of those who wore our discards
down dark corridors at school decades ago.
Until this day I have not told
any living soul
about our parents’ great and secret love.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Today's Poem: Death by Chocolate, by Anuja Acharya

Monday again, and who wouldn't want to have a dinner like the one below waiting for you, as dark begins to fall, with its grand conclusion, or "execution," as this young poet describes it. Anuja Acharya was one of the winners in our inaugural Student Poet Laureate Awards this year, sponsored by the North Carolina English Teachers Association. (click on the post title to be taken to the awards post.) She is now a student at NC State. To sip while reading this poem---ummmm----maybe some hot chocolate or chocolate flavored coffee, with whipped cream atop!

Death By Chocolate

Crusty chunks of Rosemary olive bread
With a thick, fruity
Extra virgin olive oil
Flavored with garlic and dried rosemary.

Followed by
Insalata di Palma, the roasted peppers and artichoke hearts
Caressed in the depths of mesculin greens
Laced with robust lemon mustard vinaigrette.

Followed by
An airy, light, tart raspberry sorbet
Sliced with a sharp, peppermint edge
Garnished with a single sprig of fleshy spearmint.

And for the execution
The layers of chocolate
Her layers of Dante's hell
A fine dark experesso chocolate pudding
And a crusty white chocolate crumble cake
Cut with chocolate shavings and milk chocolate
Death by chocolate. And then some.

--Anuja Acharya

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Today's Poem: Time Cats, by Mary Adams

My friend Mary Adams is such a good poet that words fail me. But they never seem to fail her. This poem opens a box not only of kittens but of life, mortality, solace. Reading a poem is not like letting yourself drift off into dreamland. It guides you into life's time, and that can be---well, all sorts of wonderful, disturbing, weird, and amazing evocations of mystery. For this poem, I might suggest a cup of Cardamon Cinnamon Herb tea. Or Lemon Wintergreen.

-- after Mr. Lloyd Alexander, 1924-2007

To console you for growing old, I got you a gift
to take you out of time. Not poems, which are always
ending after they start. And not knitting,
which if worn you might wear out. The best
gifts are light, but not too light, and flow
everywhere, like the ache of debt. This year
your gift should signify the infinite.
So I got you kittens, tricked by your own fingers
from the wild. Because they compound eternally,
but warmer. Because a single box contains
all kittens till it’s opened. Because a kitten
mewing makes a butterfly make a tornado.
Because a knotting of kittens extends in a plane
forever. Because a dying kitten is
impossibly light, and a lost kitten’s cry
is bottomless. And since each kitten wells
with the cat of danger, we know every cat
wears kittens like an urge. None is ever
really lost. Then cats point both ways always.
Now you are grown, here are all your kittens,
new again, like money you found in the laundry.
Heft them gently. Feel in their small hearts
your trembling. Calm them in the morning
of your fears. When you are sad, speak
them like cadences, kitten of cross-fire,
kitten of backflip, kitten of glory, kitten of
clutching, kitten of pestering and plummet, spindly
kitten, hungry kitten, kitten of solace.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mother Land, by Linda Parsons Marion

I've known Linda Parsons Marion for many years. She is the wife of poet Jeff Daniel Marion, and the two of them make a pretty good poetic team. If you are looking for a strong, earthy book of poetry for yourself or family and friends during the winter season, this one is a winner. Go to the irisbooks.com site to find out how to order, or, better yet, order from your local indie bookstore.

As for which tea to drink while enjoying these poems, any suggestions? Something like Blackberry Sage, perhaps, or Good Hope Vanilla.



I believe in the bicycle of forgiveness, the potholes
barely missed and jarred over, stickiness of new-laid tar
sucking my speed to a crawl. I believe in silver spokes,
unswerving wheels bouncing me along, though the way
forward is fogged in false hope. I believe in the way—
that if souls are reincarnated, I chose you for my mother,
chose the rutted road we’ve traveled/travailed, chose
the misfiring in your head, manic/depressive charge
that drove me through Alice’s looking-glass, under quilts,
behind chairs until stormclouds lifted. I believe in gravel
slung, wedged in my Keds, for limping and bruised I can
salve others’ woundedness, pick the rocks from their knees.
I believe in highways simmering ahead like heated lakes,
mirage of reconciliation near enough to imagine. I believe
in roadside angels: grandmothers, aunts, friends, a stepmother
who rescued strays from traffic, raised me without blood
boundaries. I believe in torque, the physics of angle and altitude,
in slamming the pavement to make time, knowing in my heart
of hearts forgiveness has no schedule, no map, no AAA
triptych. I believe in the small bell, the night’s music hushing
my child’s fears that fifty years have not extinguished. I believe
in the night, haunts heard only by the misbegotten, for later
comes the peach morning. I believe in the fickle wind renewing
my hair and ears, its shifting horse latitudes and rainbow
arch. I believe in the endpoint lowering its heavy barricade,
in your faith’s Savior waiting to pick you like a field flower,
your goodness reborn. I believe I will stand at the opened earth
and grieve for the wasteland we’ve ridden far and wide,
light slanting on hills we never stopped to admire. I believe
grace will carry us there if we lean into the hairpin curves,
pedal hard, in life or after, beyond the blue rise.

Young Once

The relatives wrap leftover turkey and Derby Pie,
my mother hands out photographs of herself at twenty.
Surely my father, training for the Air Guard at Ft. Sumter,
snapped her on the beach towel: one leg coyly bent,
palms flat to accentuate her bust, that coveted Coppertone
glow of 1952. A flutter in her womb, I am the ticket
to duty stateside, those unlucky boys dogfighting
in bitter skies over Korea’s 38th parallel. See,
she has written on the back, I was young once too.

Sleek and gilded in Carolina heat, surely her high school
sweetheart would never cheat with a Kappa Delta
nor stand before a judge and beg her to stay his wife.
Nor would she run from husband to husband, mistaking
the second for savior, burning down to her frosted toenails
for a third. No daughter of hers would cry for a different
mother, pack a suitcase to live in her father’s house,
their ties bloodied and broken. No, her mind would not
roar like the downing of MiGs, nor drown the wreckage
in Percodan or Darvocet, the sting of their going
and going mirrored in the fierce surf.

This blinding day, her bones are hard and buttermilk
fed, unbuckled to feebleness and osteoporotic ruin.
Her breasts, jaunty enough to turn heads, unburdened
by cancer, not yet a lunarscape cratered by the scalpel.
From a nowhere street in east Nashville, she has traveled
to this brazen sun and broad shore. On sugary sand,
in the singular compass of my father’s sea-blue eyes,
she cannot believe her luck.

The Name of the Place

Come on, let me show you where it’s at.
Come on, let me show you where it’s at.
The name of the place is I like it like that.
—Dave Clark Five

At the low-slung altar of her Magnavox console, I bowed
to their greatness, the ministers of my stepmother’s music:
Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Roy Orbison, Joey Dee
and his Starliters, Mancini and Lanza. I jumped to their jive,
their strings and hangdog vibrato, popped my hips
to the peppermint twist. I wanted to be the pulse of bass
thumping, the verve of I like it like that. Whatever cool place
the beat sent her, I was the metronome tocking at her heels.
Dizzy and tuneless from my mother’s discordance,
I wished myself into the turntable and scratchy revolutions,
into my stepmother’s rouge and pancake makeup, fingers
snapping Sweet dream baby, how long must I dream?
The records spun dreams of waking her blood daughter,
with sapphire eyes and cucumber skin, our separateness
drowned out, our pitch pure as belonging.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

ToDAY'S POEM--BY Edward Thomas

(The Danube, with a few lights from cruisers and buildings reflected on it, as we walked back, tired, to our hotel, eager for supper and a good glass of wine. No owls, though. Only the rush of traffic. But in four days Budapest would be remembering the tragic events of the 1956 Revolt, with long processions of citizens carrying candles along the river.)

For this poem, perhaps some strong black tea? Or a glass of cognac? Anything to warm the bones on a winter night.

The Owl

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

--Edward Thomas

Sent by Gibbons Ruark, who says:


And here, as a purely personal footnote, is a link to a feature on a site in Liverpool which includes my elegy for the beautiful Edward Thomas, published in my first book nearly 40 years ago. He has been one of my touchstones always. I have even had a correspondence with his grandson Edward C. Thomas, who is closely involved with the Edward Thomas Fellowship http://www.edward-thomas-fellowship.org.uk/ , one of the few "fellowships" that truly deserves its name.
Here is the Gibbons Ruark poem from the site:

A Screech Owl’s Lament for Edward Thomas

Edward, the house is dark
As I begin to hear
What you bring back to me.
Though I am lonely now,
Nights had their loneliness
Before I found your name
In the lists of casualties.
Winter brought me a death
That shook my breath away
For a dear man lost
To anything I say
This side of silence.
Night on night the music
In me was an old hymn
Whose tune I could not carry.
Now though I am troubled
As the lost key rises
In a familiar air,
It would be worse to come
To an end of mourning.

Edward, the snow was deep
When you left for the war
And you and your Helen
Cooied to each other
Through the whitening fog
Till neither one could hear.
This evening in the dusk
Your voices came to me
In the gray dove’s call
Beyond the tulip tree.
For a time that low song
Lasted, and when it died
It made a silence
Deep enough to breathe.

But now in the cold dawn
Comes a sound like the sound
You always listened for
Where you fell in the trenches,
A shivering whistle
Like a small horse whinnying
As he falls from the sky.
The screech owl in the woods
Has left his secret branch
And glided toward me.
Now he floats overhead
Like a ghost of the dark
And lowers to me
His wild descending cry.



Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my three score years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.


Now, for the tea to sip while reading this lovely piece of language, I might suggest Silver Rain White Tea or Sky Between the Branches White tea. They sound like poems, don't they?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Poem a Day. Why not try it?

I was just browsing the website of Osondu Booksellers in Waynesville, one of my favorite Indie Bookstores, second only to City Lights Books in Sylva, owned and run by my good friend Joyce Moore, and found the results of this poll, asking which book group would you be most interested in joining.

Local History---7 .36.8%
Poetry---5 .26.3%

Well, it's true only 19 people responded, and even 5 percent wanting a poetry book group is encouraging. But the next poll asked which book genre would you like to see Osondu's expanding and poetry was not even on the list! It's time for that to change. Because, in case you haven't heard, "change" is the word these days.

So, here is my suggestion during this wintry weather, and beyond: Go ask your bookseller or a friend who reads and/or writes poems to recommend a good book of poetry, and every afternoon when the holiday stress is getting to you, sit down with a cup of tea, or a glass of wine, and read one poem from that book.

Just one.

That's all you have to do. Read it slowly as you sip your beverage, take deep breaths as Dr. Weil urges us to do, and simply let the language steep in your mind as your tea has steeped in the hot water.

I know, I know, we all love to get hooked by so-called "page-turners." Oh, I couldn't wait to find out who did this or said that! Well, poetry asks you to wait. And this time of year, we'd all feel calmer if we slowed down and read just one poem slowly and gratefully. As for the tea--right now I'm sipping Afternoon Darjeeling, with milk and just a tad of brown sugar. It's delicious. The poem that's waiting for me? Maybe one by several of my favorite poets---Nancy Simpson, Cecilia Woloch, William Wordsworth, Bill Brown, Seamus Heaney, doris davenport, and on into poetic infinity.

I'll join you there. We'll share a cup of tea and a book of poetry together.

Monday, December 1, 2008

December First: Let the Snow begin---

----And the Christmas Gift list-making, if we haven't begun already. For the posts leading up to Christmas Day, I will be featuring books and magazines for gift-buyers on my laureate blog. I'll post a few on this blog, as well.

Meanwhile, it's lovely to sit here with a cup of coffee and look out my windows.

All the dogs are inside. Byron in my husband's chair. Our big polar bear Bro at my feet. Is that a dog's head I see protruding from the comforter on our bed?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Books, Books, and more Books

Take a look at this. What do you think? It's from this morning's New York Times.

How to Publish Without Perishing
Even in the digital age, books have a chance for new life:
as a physical object, and as an idea, and as a set of
literary forms.


(Here's the conclusion)

In bookstores, the trend for a decade or more has been toward shorter shelf life. Books have had to sell fast or move aside. Now even modest titles have been granted a gift of unlimited longevity.

What should an old-fashioned book publisher do with this gift? Forget about cost-cutting and the mass market. Don’t aim for instant blockbuster successes. You won’t win on quick distribution, and you won’t win on price. Cyberspace has that covered.

Go back to an old-fashioned idea: that a book, printed in ink on durable paper, acid-free for longevity, is a thing of beauty. Make it as well as you can. People want to cherish it.

James Gleick, the author, most recently, of “Isaac Newton,” is on the board of the Authors Guild.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Making Thanksgiving Last, Despite Everything

The news of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the trampling death of the Wal-Mart employee, and other appalling events too many to mention, have made wonder how we can keep Thanksgiving alive, day by day. I've found at least one way--celebrating our good teachers and student poets, working up a Christmas Gift List of books by NC writers on my ncpoetlaureate blog, and for this one, sharing some of the books I'm reading, some of the images that catch my eye (like our amazing holly tree) and, yes, what I'm discovering in the kitchen, if not in my poetry notebooks. After the 9/11 attacks, the kitchen was where I wanted to be.

Now I'm going to go into said kitchen, make stock from the turkey bones and concoct a new kind of "something" from leftover dressing and pumpkin pie mix. I'll let you know how it works out.

More about the holly tree in a few days!

Friday, November 28, 2008

An Appalachian Songbook on WDAV fm

On Thanksgiving Day, I had something special for dessert. WDAV fm station ran the recording of "An Appalachian Songbook," a composition by Kenneth Frazelle, with soprano Jacquelyn Culpepper, pianist Phillip Bush, and me reading poems from WILDWOOD FLOWER and BLACK SHAWL interwoven into the musical fabric. This recording was made at St. Peter's Church, where the Charlotte Chamber Music Series has become a popular program in the area. Elaine Spallone, whose blog I list, helps make these programs possible. She's an amazing artist herself. So, give her blog a visit.
You may download the performance at WDAV.org, where you will also find information about the performers. (http://www.wdav.org/printable_html.cfm?page=1_222_0&cat=1&subcat=222&subsub=0&do=view&id=210)

Here are two poems from the program:


No, I'll not listen.
The sound of it's too sweet,
like honey I licked from the spoon
while he sat on my porch
and played Shady Grove.
"You are the darling of my heart,
stay till the sun goes down."

I remember the hoot owl came closer.
Moths burned their wings in his candle wick.
"Midnight," I said,
and his fingers stirred wind from the strings,
begging, Stay, while he cradled the wood in his lap

for a last song, the hazel-
green eyes of a lost lady.
Weep Willow.
Soul of the laurel shade.

"Come," he said, pointing through dark
to the bed of leaves
we'd gathered, wildflowers strewn
on a pillow of moss.
But I sent him away,
letting go of his hand
without whispering as I do
now when my wits fail me, oh my
sweet, nothing
but sweet
good for nothing man.

from Black Shawl, (LSU press 1998)


Last night I stood
ringing my empty glass
under the black empty sky
and beginning, of all

things, to sing. The mountains
paid no attention.
The cruel ice did not
melt. But just for a moment

the hoot owl grew silent.
And somewhere the wolves
hiding out in their dens
opened cold, sober eyes.

Here's to you I sang,
meaning the midnight
the dark moon
the empty well,

meaning myself
upon whom
the snow fell
without any apology.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008



Why this old Persian form for today, of all days?
Why not sonnet or blank verse to help me take hold?

Down to the wire goes the season’s gold,
late this year, so long it took to take hold.

I don’t care that my days tumble down
to the compost pile. I want to look, to take hold.

Seize the day. Carpe Diem, if you like.
Bite down hard on the hook and take hold.

Down the creek float the leavings of what I once was.
Just a girl. Mostly waiting for luck to take hold.

Last night rain kept the roof busy scolding
me, wake up you dumb cluck and take hold.

I’ve already answered my e-mail, my voice
mail, my snail mail. My real work? To take hold.

Kathryn died too young. Age twelve. Now she tolls
in the dust of my name: to come back, to take hold.

(from COMING TO REST, LSU Press)

The ghazal has a long and storied history in Persian and Islamic literature. Now it is becoming part of our own. The late contemporary Kashmiri-American poet Aga Shahid Ali wrote several beautiful ghazals, in the traditional form. Adrienne Rich's "Blue Ghazals" are looser in their construction but well worth reading. And there is more to learn about this difficult, yet evocative form. I hope readers will do some exploration on this topic.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


(On the Elizabeth Bridge)

Since our return from Hungary, and the election of a new president, we have heard much about bridges and how we must connect with each other, despite our differences. After crossing the three bridges, Margit, Chain, and Elisabeth, so many times during our stay in Budapest, I have a much more literal response to bridges, especially these three, all destroyed during World War Two. I came to love crossing the Elisabeth Bridge for the view of Pest on the other side, where so much of the cultural life of the city awaited, and I loved heading back toward our hotel on the Buda side, seeing on my left, the Liberation Monument, still there, still holding up her palm wreath to the forces of history. As for the Chain Bridge, who couldn't love those lions! I would like to have one at the bottom of my driveway!

I don't know how Jim would feel about that, though!

(Connie Kotis, Photo Credit)

Crossing the Chain Bridge, I also was able to see the legendary Turul spreading its wings atop Castle Hill.

Other bridges were the friends made, Szidi Juhasz, for one, the history of a country I'm just beginning to learn, the awareness that so much about the world waits for all of us to know more about, to enjoy, to honor, and protect.

And then the artistic bridges that writers, musicians, composers, all artists really, make when they practice their art and work together to bring it to the rest of the world. My collaboration with Harold Schiffman has been one of the greatest gifts of my artistic and personal life, and I thank him him and the crew at the Gyor Philharmonic for it!

So, here is a photo ol the usual suspects in The Mozart Cafe in Győr, provided by Jane Perry-Camp, a fitting conclusion to my travel diary.

Those included in the photo (taken by a kind waitress) compose October's whole Kiraly Music Network (KMN) team [aka "The Crew"], from President David Zsolt Király, to cheerleader and occasional pianist Jane. They are (with roles as members of The Crew, as if you didn't know!!!):

L to R: Szidónia Juhász (interpreter/translator), Mátyás Antal (conductor), Harold Schiffman (composer), Jane Perry-Camp (yes), David Zsolt Király (President, KMN), István Biller (recording engineer), [above Király's head -- but only in the photo] Wolfgang A. Mozart (composer and keyboardist). Location: Mozart Cafe, Győr, Hungary; 20 October 2008, 7:52 p.m. (Items from menu that were chosen -- not disclosed.)
Notes by Jane!

Last Evening in Budapest

As the sun began to set, we headed back to our hotel, crossing the Elisabeth Bridge yet again, glad that our hotel had been on the Buda side, giving us so many opportunities to see the Danube in all its variations of light and color as we crossed the bridge day after day.

I stood on our 5th floor balcony a while, watching the light fade.

I watched the sunset relected in a window across from our balcony.

And this view of Buda side of the city we were about to leave! It remains one of my favorite images.

How do apartment residents manage to have such lush displays of flowers on their balconies?

And, as night fell, we toasted our stay in Hungary with the country's famous drink, Tokaji, a dessert wine I heartily recommend.

Last Day in Budapest

On our last day in Budapest, I took a photo of what we came to call "our church," from the vantage point of the 5th floor stairwell.

Then after the usual delicious and filling breakfast at Hotel Orion, we headed out over the Elisabeth Bridge for a stop at the oldest church in Budapest, the Inner City Parish Church (V. Március 15. tér 2). It has origins going back to the twelfth century and is also the site of the grave of the martyr Bishop Saint Gellért. During the Turkish occupation in the seventeenth century the church was converted for use as a mosque. After their expulsion and a great fire in 1723 it was rebuilt in baroque style, although the interior also contains Classical elements. Looking into the garden at the rear , I saw this fresh green ivy climbing up the centuries-old fence.

Then a walk by the famous St. Stephens Basilica,( Hungarian: Szent István-bazilika), named in honour of Stephen, the first King of Hungary (c 975–1038), whose mummified fist is housed in the reliquary. We did not drop in to see the fist! This structure, by the way, is, along with Parliament, the tallest building in Budapest.

We climbed the hill to Gul Baba's mausoleum, only to find it closed for repairs. (If you google the mausoleum, you can find photos of what we missed inside, one of the most beautiful resting places ever seen.) Gul Baba was a poet, and so the legend goes, introduced roses to the region that became Hungary. There were roses of several colors blooming around his tomb. The bronze sculpture of Gul Baba perched on a leafy promontory called Rose Hill is recent and constitutes a belated acknowledgement of the debt Budapest owes to its Ottoman heritage.

A companion of Sulayman the Great, Gul Baba was killed in the Turkish military campaign that captured Budin in 1541 following two earlier short-lived conquests (the modern Budapest was only formed in 1872 by a union of Budin on the Danubéis western bank and Pest in the east).

Gul Baba wrote poems and prose. Some of his manuscripts on mystics are to be found in the works Miftah al-Ghaib (Key of the Unseen). Some of his poems have been preserved for us is a small hand-written booklet, Guldeste (Bunch of Roses), although many of his manuscripts have probably been lost. He wrote all his works under the name of Mithali. (from Wikipedia)

No, the image below is not from a sci-fi exhibit. It's the interior of the Centennial Memorial, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the city's unification, on Margit Island, a pastoral retreat in the midst of the busy city, with a singing fountain, trees, benches, and lots of green grass for picnics on weekends. We crossed the Margit (Margaret) Bridge to get there, and if we'd had more time in our last day, we would have lingered.

This sculpture looks like a huge seedpod to me, or a flower bud just opening. Both seem appropriate for the anniversary it celebrates. The inside of the pod looked very much like the interior of a time machine.

Walking toward Ferenciek tere to see the relief commemorating the Great Flood of 1838.

This relief gives a view of the tragedy that befell Budapest in 1838. Ferenciek tere is named after the Franciscan church on the corner of Kossuth utca, whose face bears a relief recalling the great flood of 1838, in which over 4 hundred people were killed. More would have died had not Baron Miklos Wesseleny personally rescued scores of people in his boat, depicted on the plaque outside the church.

Hasn't everyone wanted to stand beneath such a lion? Here I am before we crossed the Chain Bridge, guarded on both ends by these heroic lions.